Neville Roberts reviews ‘Yuko Mabuchi plays Miles Davis’ from Yarlung Records

The audiophile recording label Yarlung Records is all about helping young musicians. Once such musician – Yuko Mabuchi – has just released another album for jazz aficionados; this time, as a homage to Miles Davis.  Yarlung offer their recordings in a variety of formats, including superb quality copy-master tapes.

The album ‘Yuko Mabuchi plays Miles Davis’ was recorded live in the Cammilleri Hall at the Brain and Creativity Institute of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles in April 2018. The inspiration for the album came from the story that Davis’ influential 1959 album ‘Kind of Blue’ was largely improvised on the spot. For this album, the tunes written by Miles Davis have been improvised by Yuko Mabuchi (piano), JJ Kirkpatrick (trumpet), Del Atkins (double bass) and Bobby Breton (drums).

The music

The first tape kicks off with ‘All Blues’, which was first shared with the world by

Miles Davis on ‘Kind Of Blue’. It’s a 12-bar blues piece in 6/8 time. The chord sequence is that of a basic blues and is made up entirely of seventh chords using the Ancient Greek Mixolydian scale.

‘Blue In Green’ is a Bill Evans and Miles Davis composition also from ‘Kind Of Blue’. The melody incorporates Dorian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes from Ancient Greece. After exploring these textures, Mabuchi transitions into an ‘Afro’ feel to give new expression to this classic ballad.

‘Milestones’ is one of Miles’ forays into modal music; he released it in 1959 and it remains a quintessential example of 1950s modern jazz. Mabuchi and her ensemble swing it in a traditional approach to this timeless classic.

Tape 1 concludes with ‘Nardis’, written by Miles Davis in 1958. Mabuchi treats this classic composition from Miles’s modal period with the respect that it deserves, with beautiful contributions from the ensemble.

Swapping to Tape 2, the first piece is Mabuchi’s own composition: ‘Ikumi’s Lullaby’, which she wrote for her niece. This work is part of a series of pieces inspired by Mabuchi’s love for children, their innocence and their complexity. Although the basic 12-bar melody is simple, the chord treatment and arrangement is complex.

Miles Davis’ ‘So What’ remains one of the best known examples of modal jazz, set in the Dorian mode and consisting of 16 bars of D Dorian, followed by eight bars of E-flat Dorian and continuing with another eight bars of D Dorian. The double bass is used to highlight the main theme. Mabuchi and her ensemble swing freely on this tune, while never abandoning the intention of the original composition.

‘Sky With No Tears’ is another Mabuchi original composition. This jazz waltz in A Minor is classically tinged, but develops quickly with the bass solo and piano improvisation.

The final piece is Mabuchi’s ‘Missing Miles’, where she pays tribute to various periods in Miles Davis’ career, including a hint of ‘Freddie Freeloader’ at the beginning of the first segment and a nod to ‘Time After Time’ at the start of the middle section. Mabuchi alludes briefly to ‘Tutu’ as the quartet launches into their final section, celebrating the extraordinary musical career of Miles Davis.

The recording quality

As anticipated, the album is superb! With the first tape, ‘All Blues’, the drums in the introduction really make me sit up and listen.  When Mabuchi joins in on the piano with a trumpet playing the melody, the clarity of the sound and instrument focus is fantastic. ‘Blue in Green’ is a beautiful contemplative jazz piece that has been re-energised by Mabuchi’s performance, and ‘Milestones’ is sparkling and energetic. ‘Nardis’ is a gentle and reflective track that somehow sounds fresh with Mabuchi’s interpretation.

The second tape opens with another gentle piece, Mabuchi’s Ikumi’s Lullaby’, which gently relaxes you into the environment of the Cammilleri Hall. This is followed by Mabuchi’s sympathetic rendition of ‘So What’. It took me a few moments to clue into Miles’ original performance, but I soon recognised that Mabuchi and her team had remained true to his unique rendition while at the same time imparting a new freshness and energy – wonderful stuff!  The last two pieces are Mabuchi’s own compositions – firstly, the reflective ‘Sky Without Tears’, which closes with justifiably enthusiastic applause from the audience and, finally, ‘Missing Miles’, which is a splendidly sparkling tribute to the man himself.

Mabuchi’s excellent interpretations are a real homage to Miles Davis, and yet retain the imprint of her individuality.  The atmosphere of the Cammilleri Hall is beautifully captured in the recordings, and I am splendidly transported to the venue in my sitting room without the cost of the air fare! This is an excellent quality album and a ‘must have’ addition for any jazz-loving, analogue tape enthusiast.

The album consists of two tapes, which are made to order and can be purchased directly from Yarlung’s website at . In my opinion, the cost is very reasonable at $450 for two tapes, although UK customers will also have to pay import duties.